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Notes from the Field
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 10:12AM EST on October 31, 2011
After a severe food crisis in 2010, women founded an association of grain banks to prepare for times of hardship
Niandou Ibrahim, CARE Niger, October 21, 2011
Last year, 20 percent of households in Niger were affected by a devastating food crisis. The village of Moujia, located between the cities of Konni and Tahoua in the center-west of the country, gave a picture of the situation at that times. (see story from 2010)
Drought and parasites had completely destroyed the crops, and in order to survive, people were forced either to migrate or to do menial tasks for little pay. Like in Alhou Abdou's household, made up of six children and his wife, the villagers fought day after day to feed themselves. Even though they decreased the number of meals and portion sizes, they often went hungry.
CARE provided 100 kilograms of grain to Alhou's family through a large-scale programme of free grain distribution, in cooperation with the Niger government and the World Food Programme (WFP). The other households in the village that were suffering from the food crisis all received the same support. This external aid was combined with the stock from a grain bank that the women of the village had implemented to meet the food needs of the families.
The women's small grain bank had a huge impact on the entire community. Inspired by this victory, and knowing that food crises appear every three years, the women were motivated to expand their idea of an "association of cereal banks" in the region.
The system Matu Masu Dubara ('clever women' in the local Hausa language) is made up of savings and loans groups that are managed by the villagers. These groups enable the creation of multiple village projects in several areas, such as health (providing training and equipment for nurses), education (literacy and awareness about girls' education), environmental protection (growing trees and orchards), food security (creation of village grain banks), and even recently, entering political arenas to elect women to influence local and national decision making processes.
Alhou's wife Hadja belongs to the network of "Tammaha" (hope) groups in Moujia, which started a cereal bank in 2002. The bank served its purpose every year because even in years with good crop yields, more than 60 percent of households cannot meet their food needs with their harvests alone. However, in a year of crisis, like in 2010, the Moujia bank couldn't withstand the high demand for grain.
Hundreds of Mata Masu Dubara women from Niger also started cereal banks in their communities. Under the leadership of these women, 19 other community grain banks in the surrounding areas came together to form an association of banks: a storehouse with enough stock to come to the aid of smaller banks in case of stock shortage caused by a high demand in times of food crisis. "To do this, each of the 20 groups contributed a total of 1,000,000 cfa francs, or 2,100 USD, that was used to buy the start-up stock. CARE, with financing from the Norwegian Agency of Development Cooperation, then helped with the construction of a store and management training for the designated women, who would oversee the operation of maintaining the stock. WFP contributed 27,000 kilograms of cereals. It was a real pooling of resources," explainsMérido Moussa, director of the Matu Masu Dubara women association in Moujia.
Today, the association of Moujia banks provides a permanent stock of supplies in the area. While the market price of a 100 kilogram sack of millet is 19,000 fcfa (40 USD), the village banks can sell it for 18,000 fcfa because the union provides it at a lower cost of 16,000 fcfa.
"The women are so clever," whispers Alhou Abdou, while looking lovingly at his wife. "Normally the grain stock set aside by the women would have been enough to fill the gap left by the poor yields that we're seeing this year. But we're still facing hard times because our brothers had to come home from Libya," he adds solemnly. They had lost their jobs due to the political unrest in North Africa.
As of August 31, 2011, evaluations have shown that the crops will not come full circle in 2,496 farming villages throughout Niger, affecting an estimated population of 2,885,673 men and women. The rate of severe malnutrition among six month to five year old girls and boys is at risk of increasing in 2012.
In addition, the socio-political movements that unfolded in Cote d'Ivoire and Libya affected 200,000 migrants working abroad. The thousands of migrants who returned to Niger between February and September came home to extreme destitution, adding another challenge for vulnerable communities like Moujia. "150 village youth had to flee Cote d'Ivoire and 50 others came home from Libya empty-handed, whereas previously they were the principal source of income for Moujia," confirms Mahamadou Abdou, the Imam of the local mosque.
CARE Niger is committed to respond to the urgent challenges of this situation, while continuing to contribute to the resilience of the households in Moujia and in hundreds of other communities.
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 2:05PM EST on October 20, 2011
With each new flood, girls in Pakistan are at risk of quietly being sold for brides.
By Hadia Nusrat, Senior Gender Advisor, CARE Pakistan
Driving through parts of Sindh is impossible, as so much of the area is underwater from new floods this year, with roads either inaccessible or crowded with families who have lost their homes. Sadly, in the far flung communities and villages of Dadu, people have lived in abject poverty for generations. Young women are particularly vulnerable. The scenery is reminiscent of last year, in the wake of the floods where we found a young girl called Kanwal, who lives in a remote village in Dodo Birhamani.
Displaced by the floods, Kanwal and her family of eleven members migrated to this village as they had relatives here, seeking shelter until they were able to build their own. But with no income and many mouths to feed, Kanwal's parents decided to raise funds by arranging a marriage for Kanwal, who was just nine years old at the time. Traditionally marriages take place early in the Birhamani tribe. Girls are usually married by age 15 -- any later and they would be stigmatized as being too old to be married. In Kanwal's case her parents would receive a sum of 70,000 Rupees (USD 800) as bride price that would allow them to buy a lot of land and some goats to resettle in this village.
A Stony Rescue
Confused, scared and unwilling, Kanwal reluctantly agreed. The wedding date was set for the very next day. As the ceremony was proceeding, a police van and police officers (including a female officer) intercepted the wedding procession, took Kanwal into protective custody, and moved her to the nearby Dadu city.
It turned out to be Kanwal's special day after all. Someone from the village had called the police to report that the crime of marrying a nine year old was taking place. Normally such events go un-reported in Pakistan, but in Dadu an CARE project* funded by the European Union for protecting human rights had recently run street theatres, and shared contacts with village youth in case they wished to report crimes in the area. This small initiative had sparked an essential change in raising awareness, empowering local people with information and networks for reporting a crime in progress and intercepting it.
The rescue did not run smoothly. The police squad was stoned and their car was smashed. Kanwal's mother, who accompanied her young daughter to the police station, protested profusely. But when she learned that she, her husband and the groom's family could all be libel to fines, penalties and possible jail, she quieted, appreciating for perhaps the first time that marrying a girl so young was indeed a crime -- and seeing now how that they had been pushed in to it. At the time of the marriage agreement and exchange of bride price, Kanwal's mother explained, it was agreed that Kanwal would be wed only after puberty. But once the money was paid, the groom's family insisted she be wed quickly.
The Stigma of Shame
Kanwal is an energetic girl, who cooks the food for her family of eleven. Two of her siblings are mentally disabled, while the others are all young men and boys who leave the home to seek daily wage work. Often they return empty handed, as there is little work in the parched lands around the village. There is just one school in the village run by a local non-governmental organization and their charges make the education unaffordable for Kanwal's family. Kanwal knows there is an alternative – a young woman who is ready to teach her and other girls to read and write for much less -- and with her audience of visitors, she even dares to argue with her mother that she should be allowed to learn. Her mother is not interested in education. She needs her daughter's help in the house. Kanwal, however, remembers fondly and proudly the year she went to school in the village they used to live in before the floods. She can write the entire English and Sindhi alphabet, and can write her name in both languages. She holds up pages of her writing with the same enthusiasm she shows for her hand-stitched textile designs.
Though she has been saved from becoming a child bride, her human rights may still not be respected. Her rights to education, justice, access to information, decent living and livelihood may all still be denied, without schools, teachers, income generation opportunities, honest judiciary or law enforcement bodies that can carry the work forward. This is an unfinished story. Kanwal faces a perilous journey, as do many young girls in this region. With each new flood, they are at risk of quietly being sold for brides, as the only source of financial security for their families.
CARE has been working in Sindh since 2007, initially responding to floods, then with a Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights program, and staying on to support these communities devastated by the 2010 and 2011 floods. CARE's priority is to work with marginalized women, providing primary health services and raising awareness on health and hygiene practices to help women help themselves.
*The EU funded CARE project works through a national partner organization called “Strengthening Participatory Organization” (SPO) which in turn forms Human Rights Forums comprised of civil society, police and judiciary. The forums organize advocacy events at village levels.
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 12:27PM EST on October 20, 2011
Doctors provide medical support, but more assistance is urgently needed
By Mujahid Hussain, Team Leader Lower Sindh, CARE International Pakistan
The monsoon floods of August 2011 have displaced millions of people from their modest huts in the areas of lower Sindh province. After almost three months stranded under open sky, many are still waiting for proper temporary shelter, water, sanitation and healthcare support. The most vulnerable are women and children, who are fighting unprotected from the health risks of exposure to hot sun during the day and mosquitoes at night.
CARE and its partners' health teams are providing primary healthcare and hygiene awareness education to some of the most severely affected people in the remote areas of district Mirpur Khas. This week the team visited a health camp organized by our partner at village Mahar Mohammad Buttar, UC Burghari. We travelled about two hours from Mirpur Khas city by road to reach the village. The road condition was very poor and in some areas it is surrounded by water. The level of water is now receding and some people have started to return to what is left of their nearby homes.
On the way to the camp village we stopped to ask questions in a local community. "We are happy to be going back to the debris of our home instead of sitting in camps on the roads and waiting for relief. We try to survive with our own saved resources," said 55 year old Mero of village Goth Mitha Baluch.
We reached a village where a health camp had been set up by CARE local partner Takhleeq Foundation. The camp was well organized, with separate facilities for men and women, and with the active involvement of local elders. Over 350 local people were gathered, including men, women and children, waiting for medical officers' consultation and medications. Four medical officers (two male and two female) were fully engaged in consultations. In the waiting room staff were leading hygiene awareness sessions, focusing on how to ensure clean water and do hand washing.
One of the female medical officers is 23-year-old Dr. Tabinda, who has been providing healthcare services in flood-affected areas for the last 15 days. Asked about her motivation, she said: "I am very happy to provide health services to these people. They are deprived, they are poor, and the way they are being neglected is inhuman. This village has a population of 20,000, and they have no health unit available for healthcare." She said she and her colleagues were travelling three to four hours on daily basis to access these remote areas. Yesterday the team had to go on foot for half an hour to conduct camp at another village. "Our motivation is high to serve these needy people, and I am sure to get their prayers." She pointed out one lactating woman sitting with her for treatment and said, "This woman is seven months pregnant. She is weak, malnourished and shelters-less. She has had severe pain for last seven days, but her family could not afford to bring her to a checkup at Mirpur Khas city."
Shewa, a 70-year old man, was suffering from fever and being treated by a male medical officer. "We are 16 in my family," he explained: "Five daughters, three sons, six grandsons, my wife and myself, all living in a hut with a cover made of plastic and our clothes. We lost all our standing crops -- cotton, vegetables, rice in the field and now we are looking for food and water to survive. All our family members are ill, and have come to this camp for treatment. This medical support is blessing on us. My young grandson Rehman is studying in class 3 and he is suffering from malaria fever and not attending school. If I could get some cash support in future, I will buy some livestock, foods, and construct a new hut for living."
I have experience working in some major disasters in Pakistan such as the disastrous earthquake in Pakistan in 2005 and the floods last year and I know that every disaster victim has different suffering and feelings of hope. But responding to the floods this year in lower Sindh, I witness that people are hopeless and frustrated after waiting for three months to get support. Many of these people will die from malnutrition and water borne diseases if a response cannot be expedited. CARE and other organizations urgently need more funding to support people in need.
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 4:22PM EST on October 19, 2011
CARE International UK's Programme Director, John Plastow
The flip side of the realities of the situation was vividly demonstrated this afternoon, with the Takaba Water Users' Association. This citizens' committee reported that water supplies from the seven large water pans that have served some 300,000 people scattered across this semi-arid region have dried up. They are now left to fall back on three boreholes. Two, though, have run dry and the third, which produces potable but unpleasantly salty water, is all that people have to rely on. The borehole is pumping 24 hours a day and there is no functioning back-up generator. Should something go wrong, the town and tens of thousands of families would literally be left high and dry.
Communities here have managed the situation with support of organisations like CARE. But the severity of this drought seems to be finally catching up with them.
In Banesa, as in Takaba yesterday, there was evidence that people had coped better this time around thanks to drought mitigation measures being put in place. The water reservoir that had been dug deeper had lasted longer, and better management of water distribution at cost meant the committee was able to pay for tankers itself rather than rely on hand-outs. Detailed plans between communities and local government officials meant that pasture was better managed. Indeed, I saw a planning meeting between local leaders and government officials, facilitated by CARE, planning what to do next time rains fell.
But time really is running out. Camels are dying in large numbers - always a bad sign. The short rains are due around mid-October. If they come, this now more resilient community will be able to see out the drought without their livelihoods becoming decimated. If not, then the prospects in this border area are indeed dire. The acacia though are changing - I was told by Adan Bishar, a local elder whose bees had flown and whose camels were dying - because they sense growing humidity in the air. There is then hope from nature, but the prospect of nature failing these people again is one nobody wishes to contemplate too fully.
Moyale is at the end of the road, not only in Kenya, but also in Ethiopia. Indeed, it is the only formal crossing point across the hundreds of kilometres between the two countries. This gives it great strategic significance and makes it a magnet for all sorts of trade.
I was taken to meet an unlikely mix of traditional leaders and women's representatives from border communities alongside local government officials from both Kenya and Ethiopia. They have come together in a process being facilitated by CARE International which aims to bring people together to work through deep seated and complex challenges such as endemic conflict, hunger and destruction of the environment that besets pastoral livelihoods. Listening to the impassioned feedback from the very different interest groups it was clear that this venture has started to tackle a range of major challenges.
‘We have started to build distrust between us,' Galma Busula, an elder from across the Ethiopian border told me. ‘We were losing our animals, others would smuggle valuable trees, we would see them disappear over the border and had no way of recovering them. Now though that situation is reversing itself'.
This view point was backed up by local government officials. Tadi Wako, a livestock officer said he had seen a remarkable turnaround with people taking responsibility to apprehend poachers. In the last month he spoke of one incident where 36 cattle and 7 donkeys had been returned to owners cross border.
Such behaviour is building up trust and has enabled other forms of reciprocation. In times of drought, communities do move between Ethiopia and Kenya in search of pasture. However, the extent and volume of movement had been curtailed of late, something that has impacted on livestock deaths.
‘Confidence between us has built up as well as our ability to keep track of numbers of herds many of which are moving into the country to places like Yabello and Tertale,' Mesele Eticha, Provincial Land Administrator, told us.
This project and its cross-border committee is built on interactions between just five rural cross-border communities. It would be wrong to attribute too much to this experiment but there is no doubt that it is bringing about some very different outcomes and contributing to rebuilding relations between communities in ways that are proving highly valuable for people who all too often are living at the very edge of crisis.
Much of the day was actually spent looking at the work that CARE has been doing supporting people in their efforts to improve their water supply. Wells are drying up and practically everywhere water pans - essentially small reservoirs - are also now exhausted. People rely on the few remaining wells that are still providing water or in a number of areas they have fallen back on expensive water trucking, something that mainly requires external humanitarian assistance.
CARE has been working with communities to help them manage their water more efficiently. Through RREAD, we help communities form water users' committees to regulate water supplies and charge user fees. These are critical to promote the upkeep of water pumps, pipes and drinking troughs for animals and to protect wells so that they are not contaminated. Dika Ibrahim, the Chair of the Godoma Cross Border Committee, took me to see work that was going on to protect one of the few remaining water sources in the area. This shallow well was supplying the water needs of both people and livestock on both the Kenyan and Ethiopian sides of the border. As we approached we came across several women driving donkeys laden with jerry cans full of water as well as large numbers of camels clearly heading in the same direction as we were.
CARE had provided funds to supplement those of the community to help protect one of the two functioning wells. This involved several men lining the side of a very precarious looking pit with cement, essentially to stop debris falling inside and contaminating it. They were also planning to build steps down to the perimeter of this large and – to my eye – deep and treacherous facility. One shallow well had already been spoilt because baboons had fouled the water supply, leaving the communities with just one operational well. Accessing water from here was no straightforward matter. Six young men pulled up heavy buckets full of water in a human chain, perched on a rope ladder ascending from the depths. The top carrier transferred the water into troughs where thirsty camels waited patiently to satisfy their thirst. On the other side of the well two other young men were pulling up buckets on ropes to provide water to people who carried it away by donkey cart. The CARE project is designed to improve access, quality and reliability of supply and is one of a number of such initiatives we have been involved in.
Later on I was taken to a small recently excavated reservoir, which was dry awaiting the prospect of rainfall to fill it for next year's supply. Communities have been active in desilting and deepening water sources, one factor that has seen people ride out this year's drought slightly longer than in previous years.
By this time the clouds had evaporated and the short shower of this morning had done no more than damped the dusty earth for a short while. If the rains materialise this year then people are well placed to make the most of them. Meantime the waiting goes on.
Posted by: Daniel Fava at 10:39AM EST on October 14, 2011
Sardar Rohail Khan
Security Operations Assistant, CARE Pakistan
An audio version of this blog is available here.
My friends say I can appear expressionless, even cold at times. It's an occupational hazard of security training, where we learn not to show too much emotion on the job. But one glance from a small village girl, and I was lost. As her eyes pinned me, sparking fiercely with anxiety, I found myself wondering almost aloud: What are we doing here? How can any amount of humanitarian aid make a difference in this poor girl's life?
As we respond to the Pakistan floods of 2011, it's impossible not to reflect on the tireless efforts of my colleagues and our partners to aid survivors of the catastrophic flood which struck just last year. Like the mud when the waters receded, memories clog the hearts of those who are rebuilding their lives, and those who went to help. The second flood has now hit harder, like a terrible flashback.
When my boss called to say that I had to travel to south Punjab to support the field work, I had mixed feelings. I didn't want to be away from my fiancée. I had no idea that nature was about to hit me with a different kind of flood, or that I wouldn't be able to work or sleep until I responded to the emotions that came rushing in with it.
On the road, we passed lush green fields which every year produce the best mangoes in the world. After two hours of bumpy driving off the main highway, we reached a village that been devastated by the rains. It was scorching hot, 47 degrees. As I sweated outside a small one-room school building, watchful for security problems, I kept soaking myself with cold water from a tube well, to the amusement of kids playing nearby.
Inside, the makeshift classroom was crammed with children of all ages, and some adults curious about our team's arrival. As I scanned the room, my eyes caught those of a small girl. She was staring at me, reciting her lessons while looking uneasily at the guests, intruders in her world. While she clenched a small book with her mouth, biting it, her brother sitting next to her would poke and tease her, over and over again -- and she would not say a word, even though it was clearly testing her patience. With the permission of her parents standing nearby, I snapped a photo. She continued to stare, without speaking. She wore a ragged shalwar kameez, the local dress, and her hair was matted, but she would fix her veil often, with the dignity of a princess.
Her parents were Pakhtuns, but could speak some Urdu. When I commended them for educating their children, they laughed, and replied that they sent their children to "this place" to keep them out of the way When I asked why not let them stay and learn, to benefit the whole family, they said the girl would be married as soon as she turned 14. I persisted in my argument that both children needed education, as it would elevate them. They almost seemed convinced, but explained that they couldn't go against local traditions. They had already given their word on the marriage to a family in a nearby village.
The gaze of the small girl pierced me, as I struggled with the realization that what little knowledge she might acquire through this program could only raise her hopes -- for a life she would not be allowed to live. Education could give her the vision to bring her family out of poverty, but not without a whole new way of thinking in her village.
Sitting on the cement floor, clutching an English book she could not read, she seemed to plead with her eyes: "Help me find the courage and the strength that I need." And while I ruminated on what we could and could not change in her world, this little girl changed mine. She had the power to change my life, simply by letting me peer for a moment into hers. Without speaking a word, she somehow helped me understand that I needed first to stop thinking I had all the answers. Instead, I would begin to ask myself bigger questions: "With my knowledge, my happiness, what can I share? How can I make a difference?"